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Meeting Leaders: Susie Santo

Executive Profile

Name: Susie Santo

Title: President and CEO

Organization: Visit Wichita

Location: Wichita, Kansas

Birthplace: Topeka, Kansas

Education: B.S. in business administration at the University of Kansas

Career History: 

Director of Operations and Director of Sales at Universal Studios Hollywood, 2002-2012

Chairman of the Board, California Travel Industry Association, 2008-2012

President and CEO of Visit Wichita since 2012

Growing up in Topeka, Kansas, as the youngest of three, Susie Santo always knew she was destined to experience life in a big city, and after graduating from college she took the plunge and moved to Los Angeles.

There, she worked at Universal Studios Hollywood for nearly two decades.

“It’s no surprise that I worked in a theme park for almost 20 years, and now I’ve been in the travel tourism industry for 25 years,” said Santo. “As a child, I loved theme parks, and I love to travel. Looking back at my career, it makes sense that getting visitors to come to a place and have incredible experiences was the path I chose. In Wichita, [Kansas], it’s actually quite similar in the sense that you want visitors to come experience all the wonderful things the destination has to offer.”

Over the course of her career, Santo has held a broad range of roles, including director of operations and director of sales at Universal Studios Hollywood. Concurrent to her role in sales, she was chairman of the board of the California Travel Industry Association.

“I really fell in love with the role of the destination marketing organization [DMO],” said Santo. “A lot of my colleagues from all over the state were involved in the California Travel Industry Association, so it was a great opportunity for me to learn from them what the challenges and opportunities were in marketing their city.”

Santo said it was that experience that made it easy to transition into her role of president and CEO of Visit Wichita. She moved back to Kansas to raise her young family closer to her parents and also to celebrate her love of her home state.

“It’s such an important role for a community to have, where businesses and tax dollars help fund tourism so that people can find these undiscovered gems,” Santo said. “There are so many things happening here that people don’t know about or, if they haven’t been here in a while, that have changed.”

Santo loves her community for many reasons, but she cites civic pride and robust community involvement coupled with sunshine 300 days a year, four seasons and its being a great place to raise a family as reasons she leaped at the chance to relocate.

Santo tries to bring meeting planners in to experience what Wichita has to offer.

“As a DMO, we provide outstanding service to those meeting planners beyond the four walls of a meeting place,” she said. “We have incredibly unique places for attendees to convene, whether that’s a meeting setting or a social setting for them to conduct business. We have an authentic country experience at Cowtown, the Tanganyika Wildlife Park that’s very interactive, and the zoo and a robust art scene. Plus, we have facilities for meetings, hotels with all the amenities but without the traffic of big cities.”

Santo stressed that planners should discard their preconceived notions about Wichita and give the city a second look. In the past decade, the city has added public art and a new baseball stadium without losing touch with its agricultural roots and civic pride.

“My family has been here for more than seven years,” she said, “and couldn’t be happier.”

Tips from Susie Santo

• Utilize a city’s DMO. Organizations like Visit Wichita provide outstanding services such as site inspections, registration and more.

• Consider trying a new destination or revisit a city you haven’t been to in a while. You may not be aware of the destination’s distinct features and new aspects.

Tap into the uniqueness of a host city. DMOs are experts in the unique experiences their city has to offer.